ST. LOUIS — Those unidentified objects--presumably baseballs--that keep flying out of San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium are causing much concern. Padre pitchers are yielding home runs at such an alarming rate that, by October, they could go way down in history. . . .
Most gopher balls ever given up a pitching staff--1987 San Diego Padres.
Hoping to prevent such a catastrophe, Padre pitchers are currently trying to put their fingers on the problem. And most of them are convinced the problem is just that--what they're putting their fingers on.
It's the baseball, they say.
Padre pitchers have allowed 28 homers--tying them with Cleveland for the Major League high--and this is after only 20 games. At this rate, they'll break the all-time single-season record of 220 set by the 1964 Kansas City Athletics. They swear it's because of a livelier ball. Manager Larry Bowa lent creedence to this theory when he sawed a baseball in half before a recent game and found a little Super Ball smack in the middle.
"I don't remember that being there before," Bowa said.
If true, this could be a startling development. Usually baseballs have cork in the middle, not Super Balls. Headline: \o7 Baseballs are Bouncier In '87.\f7 And if you thought Roger Maris' record of 61 home runs was safe, guess again.
"It's killing us pitchers," said the Padres' Ed Whitson, who has given up 18 hits--10 of which have been homers. "A man's had a heck of a year this year if his ERA is in the high 3s.
"I'm not complaining. I'll take my lumps, but it's a shame. I know if I hit a home run, I'd want it to be legit."
Whitson isn't alone.
"The balls are bigger than Dallas," Padre reliever Tom Gorman said. "Either the O-zone is going haywire, the ball is souped up or everyone in the National League is pumping iron. Did you see Lenny Dykstra (of the Mets) go out of Shea Stadium to dead center? I did. I'd only seen that twice before--Mike Schmidt and Andre Dawson. I'm sure Lenny has pop, but c'mon. . . . "
Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda said: "I don't know if the ball is pumped up or not. I know I picked one up the other day, put it to my ear and felt a heartbeat inside. I don't know what that meant, but maybe there's your story."
According to Scott Smith of the Rawlings Sporting Goods company--they've been making the official Major League baseball since 1965--the specifications on the ball have never changed.
"The ball is not livelier," Smith said. "This happens every spring, I'm telling you. Balls go flying out, and everyone thinks it's the ball. But it doesn't change. It's our job to keep the ball the same every year, just for the integrity of the record books."
Then how do you explain the Super Ball? Smith said that was no Super Ball Bowa found. What it was, he said, was cork layered with rubber. He said every baseball has two rubber layers around a cushioned cork center.
"There's always been a rubber-coated cork center," Smith said. "I'm telling you."
Besides, if the ball is so lively, how come the Padres can't hit towering home runs?
"Yeah, that's what I want to know," Bowa said.
And it's not just the Padre hitters. Seymour Siwoff of the Elias Sports Bureau says there hasn't been a truly dramatic increase in home runs this year. He said 199 home runs have been hit as of Monday (107 games), which is about the same as last season, he said.
"The players know absolutely nothing," Siwoff said. "It's not the ball. It's mostly weather. There could be many, many reasons. Every once in a while, it runs in a cycle. What these people (the Padre pitchers) fail to understand what baseball is--a game. It's not an exact science.
"They're looking for excuses that aren't there. There's no reason to think there's been a change in the ball. It's like the Emporor's Clothes--I'm not seeing anything (in the statistics). If we find something, it'll be by the midway point of the season. But not now."
So maybe, just maybe, the problem is them. Maybe Padre pitchers are challenging hitters too much. As a staff, they rank third in the National League in strikeouts, so, obviously, they're around the plate a lot. There's a fine line between a strike out and a home run. Sometimes, a batter takes a big swing and misses by a centimeter and strikes out. Sometimes, he hits it over the center-field wall.
"I guess it's a combination of bad pitches and a hopped-up ball," admitted pitcher Andy Hawkins, who has given up five homers. "We're challenging people, too. And you get burned occasionally. But that's better than picking at people and walking a lot of guys."